NEW YORK – The Captains of Mexico City had just left a three-hour bus ride when they found themselves before a curious audience outside of Austin, Texas. A group of kids in karate uniforms craned their necks over a barrier at an athletic facility and wondered aloud if they were looking at “famous basketball players.”
After winding down a winding road to their first season in the G League, a developmental league for the NBA, the Captains were gearing up for an afternoon practice and had no qualms about sharing a gym with a boisterous martial arts tournament.
The Capitanes are an important part of the NBA’s push toward Mexico, but double backup was not a problem for them.
Not after losing last season to the coronavirus pandemic, but not to a team of fighters (not particularly famous) who had come from Latin America and the United States to play basketball. And not as they travel the country through an abbreviated two-month schedule made up entirely of away games.
“It can be exhausting,” said Ramón Díaz, the team’s coach. “It’s like you don’t have a home.”
Due to the pandemic, the Capitanes, for now, are based in an apartment complex in Fort Worth, Texas, rather than in Mexico City, and do not have a home stadium. They are already looking to a future free from a chronic series of bus trips.
Next season, barring another global catastrophe, they will play a full G League schedule with home games in Mexico City in a novel experiment for the NBA, which continues to seek ways to expand its international presence.
“It’s going to be a great deal,” said Fabian Jaimes, a forward and one of two Mexican players on the 12-man roster. “Actually, I can’t believe it.”
That day, the Captains were preparing for a game against the Austin Spurs. As Diaz rallied his players around him for the start of practice, Rodrigo Serratos, the team president, said the Capitanes had huge plans for Mexico, including creating youth academies to help develop talent. Serratos has been accompanying the team on the road this season to study how other franchises produce their games and engage with fans.
The Captains already have a mascot: Juanjolote, a wide-eyed aquatic salamander based on the axolotl, which is native to central Mexico and is a critically endangered species.
Serratos is not ashamed to share his dreams. He wants Los Capitanes to build a huge fan base and become a recognized sports brand in Latin America. He wants them to win games and compete for championships. And there is, of course, his biggest dream of all, one shared by the team’s owners: for the Captains to become an NBA franchise.
“Of course, it will be a great challenge,” he said. “But I like big challenges.”